Did I miss a memo about English spelling reform? More and more people seem to be spelling ridiculous as “rediculous”. Have they all been infected by the same typo? Or is it some street-talk that I’m unacquainted with?


English Pedantry

Bad English on the web annoys me. Which is all very unfortunate as there’s so much of it out there. Vox isn’t immune to this. I’ve just noticed that they consistently spell “neighbourhood” without the “u”. I suppose I should make an exception as they’re American and therefore can’t be expected to use proper English – but it would be nice to have the option to have it spelt correctly.

I’ve also seen one of my pet English peeves. Vox members can invite friends to join Vox. In English something that you send to someone else inviting them to do something is called an “invitation”. In internet English that is often abbreviated to an “invite”. Vox do that. I have two “invites” that I can give to friends. That’s wrong. The noun is “invitation”; “invite” is a verb. I often see a similar problem with “install” and “installation”.

But I realise I’m fighting a losing battle here. I’m the King Canute of English pedantry.


Proof Reading – A Lost Art?

Robert saw this poster and uploaded a photo of it to Flickr. It contains an incredible number of grammatical errors.


“email” vs “emails”

Obviously I’ve got my copy of the new Guardian and I’ll have more to say about it later on.

But I just wanted to raise a point about the letters page. They’ve renamed it “Letters and Emails”. Now that makes sense on one level as I assume that a large proportion of the letters aren’t actually sent through the post any more.

My issue is with the use of the word “emails”. Given that “email” is based on the word “mail” then I’d expect it to follow the same rules. And the plural of “mail” is… well it doesn’t really have one. It’s a weird noun that is only ever used in the singular. “I got a lot of mail yesterday”[1]. “Email” should follow the same usage.

Which of these sounds better?

“How much email do you get in a day?”
“How many emails do you get in a day?”

“I have too much email in my inbox”
“I have too many emails in my inbox”

I feel a letter (or, rather, an email) to the editor coming on.

[1] Ignoring, for a second, the fact that if you were speaking British English you’d actually use “post” instead of “mail”.


Vanishing Adverbs

When did people stop knowing the difference between adverbs and adjectives? It’s becoming common to hear people using adjectives instead of adverbs and it really grates.

There’s an example on the BBC new site right now. The headline says “Charles urges society to go slow“. Isn’t it obvious that the last word should be “slowly”?


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yesterday. In general it’s a decent version of the story. But let’s not forget that it’s a children’s book so the plot isn’t exactly complex :)

However, there was one thing that really annoyed me about it. And that was the blatant Americanisation of the dialogue. The book isn’t set anywhere specific, but it feels a lot like the UK. This film also starts by appearing to be set in some unspecified town that looks a lot like some generic industrial British town. The cars drive on the left and all of the major actors (with the obvious exception of Johnny Depp) are British and speak with a British accent.

But there was something niggling at me during the first half an hour or so of the film and I eventually worked out what it was – Charlie and his family talk about buying “candy” from the “store”. In the UK we buy sweets from a shop. Then when Charlie finds the golden ticket in the sweetshop, a woman offers him $500 for it. In the book that was £500.

I don’t understand why the filmmakers felt the need to make these pointless changes. Do they really think that audiences in the US will be less likely to enjoy a film if the cultural references relate to a different country?

Oh, and one more thing I thought of this morning. In one of the flashbacks to Wonka’s childhood we see him out “trick or treating” at Halloween. This must have been at least thirty years in the past. But “trick of treat” is only just starting to catch on in the UK. Even ten years ago you would have never seen it.

I’ve always thought of Tim Burton as an intelligent director. I’m disappointed to see him supporting this kind of cultural colonialism.


The Disinterested Media

An interesting anecdote about Alastair Campbell from John Humphrys’ book Lost for Words. In order to follow the story, you need to know two things about Campbell. Firstly that he was Downing Street’s Director of Communication (and could therefore be assumed to know a little about the English language) and secondly that he often accused the British media (in particular the BBC) of being biased against the government.

Apparently, when he left his job at Downing Street he started to offer briefings to organisations who wanted to improve their communications strategies. One of the first of these seminars was called “How to Deal with a Cynical and Disinterested Media”.

This is one of those cases where English has two similar sounding words with completely different meanings. “Disinterested” means impartial or objective. And that is, of course, exactly what you want from the media. I suspect the word they actually wanted was “uninterested”.


How Not To Phish

If you’re planning to embark on a phishing attack, here’s a little tip – get your text checked by a native English speaker. Here’s the text of an email I just got.


Since 1968 National Westminister Bank is serving its clients with the most reliable service. In Banking the most important part is the security of our clients. NatWest always look forward for the high security of our clients. Due to the recent update of the servers, you are requested to please update your account info at the following link.
[link removed]


We have asked few additional informations which is going to be the part of secure login process. These additional informations will be asked during your future login security so, please provide all these info completely and correctly otherwise due to security reasons we may have to suspend your account temporarily.

I particularly like that “Westminister”.

Now I’m sure that Nat West staff are participating in the general demise of the English language as much as most of the population so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the occasional misplaced apostrophe or confusion between adjectives and adverbs appearing in their email, but I’d be very surprised to see anything as disastrous as this coming from them.

Of course, give it another five years and I may regret saying that…



I go online sometimes, but everyone’s spelling is really bad. It’s… depressing.

Tara – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I’m having one of my periodic phases when I get really wound up by the illiteracy that is so prevalent on the internet. Sometimes I find IRC incredibly painful.

Grammar tip of the week: Remember, “install” and “invite” are verbs. The equivalent nouns are “installation” and “invitation”.